In today’s world of almost total ubiquitous connectivity, students have an urgency for the knowledge and skills to participate fully in a world that has been transformed by technology. As digital devices and internet access is being given to children younger than ever before, it is imperative that we address with them the understanding of how to participate and utilize these tools in a safe and appropriate manner through digital citizenship education.
Digital citizenship is a facet of computer education that is quickly becoming so vital, that many states are now looking at initiatives and even laws ensuring that digital citizenship is included in the education requirements for their state education curriculums. This is especially important now, as we are witnessing increased security breaches with various credit companies, as well as social media companies like Facebook testifying before Congress about user privacy. At least ten states; including California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington, are in the process of creating and passing legislation to ensure all students get a quality, digital citizenship education. Here is a link to see if your state is considering digital citizenship legislation. These forward-thinking leaders realize that students have instantaneous access to unlimited stores of information and the ability to interact with others anywhere in the world at any time; compelling them to do as much as possible to prepare and protect our most vulnerable members of the society as they navigate through our increasingly electronic society.
As educators, parents and community members, we need to springboard off those legislative endeavors and promote digital citizenship education in our schools. Traditionally, being a good citizen is something that students have learned about as early as the primary grades. Learning about one’s rights and responsibilities in society has always been an essential component to all levels of education. With the evolution of technology, those common tenants that bind us together has expanded to include creating a culture our students need to explore safely as they create their digital footprint in the world.
Like other subjects, there are a plethora of resources available for those interested, but what makes quality digital citizenship education? Utilizing assets that positively promote responsibility in and out of the school environment is essential to student growth. A relevant and worthwhile digital citizenship curriculum should include materials that relate to:
- Equal Digital Rights (Equitable access for all students, including students with special needs)
- Internet Safety and Security (Passwords, privacy and intellectual property)
- Cyberbullying (Communicating with respect and empathy)
- Evaluating Sources for Research (Critical thinking in determining credible materials)
- Health and Wellness (Being mindful of physical, emotional, and mental health while using technology)
- Personal Brands (Permanence of social postings and personal information)
- Collaborating and Advocacy (Using social tools to connect on the web)
These essential concepts can be taught and aligned to standards, just like traditional citizenship fundamentals have been over the years, as well as incorporated into the newer project-based learning methods using real-world connections. Gaining skills through experiential knowledge to become ethical and responsible students in and out of the classroom is vital as our social, technological and attitudinal shifts collide through the continued fast paced changes we see in technology.
This ever-changing technology we are placing in the hands of our students has the potential to do wonderful things, but we need to be aware of the hazards that come with its use as well. Having a good program that teaches students what digital citizenship is and how to use it is one of the most important topics we should be teaching in our classrooms.